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Each of these essential California adventures has been tried and tested by a Travel section staffer or contributor. To search the state by region, use the filter below.

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Family-friendlySan Diego County

Roll strikes, saddle up and wage paintball war at Camp Pendleton, whether you're a Marine or not

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: From the wilds of western Fallbrook to the shores of Oceanside, this is the biggest Marine base on the West Coast. And it's yours. As a civilian, you can bowl at Leatherneck Lanes, ride a horse from Stepp Stables, hunt, fish, golf and suit up for weekend paintball combat for ages 10 and up.

What: Camp Pendleton goes back to 1942. Most civilian Californians think of it as a vast forbidden zone that separates San Diego and Orange counties. And it does cover about 195 square miles of bush-covered coastal hills (and a few lakes). But with just a little advance planning, you can make parts of it your playground. What surprised me most was the chance to fight mock battles (using paintball gear) every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The paintball/Airsoft/Splatmaster territory covers more than 30 acres, including "two close-combat action houses with 15+ rooms, a village marketplace, and real military tanks and vehicles," according to a promotional website.

But I didn't have a platoon to play with, so I bowled. Leatherback Lanes is open daily with 40 lanes, a restaurant and rack after rack of balls, carefully sorted by color and weight. Taking advantage of midday discounts on a recent Wednesday, I paid a mere $2 to bowl a game in rental shoes.

To get on base, civilians are asked to fill out a form at least seven days in advance. But first-timers can often gain get in on shorter notice, so long as you call ahead and bring ID.   

Where: The main entrance to Camp Pendleton is along Interstate 5 at the edge of Oceanside. Once you're past the gate, the main road, Vandegrift Boulevard, will carry to you straight to both paintball and bowling.

How much: Bowling at Leatherback Lanes is $3-$6 per game, and it's usually $3 to rent shoes. The paintball civilian Alpha package includes gun and mask rental and 200 rounds for $44. 

Info: Camp Pendleton Base Access

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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